Brendan Koyanagi

Brendan and his mom
When Brendan left for his first year at UVic, he didn't know the toll it would take on his mom.

Leaving home

My mom and I have always been very close. My sisters attended university close to home, and I know my mom hoped I would too. But when I got my acceptance letter from UVic, I was so excited. Receiving an entrance scholarship made it feel even more right. Deep down, I knew attending UVic would set the trajectory I wanted for my life. I pushed aside any second thoughts and moved to the island.

The separation was hard for both of us, but mom never really got over the idea of me leaving. She would call me often, sometimes tearful. She wasn’t eating or sleeping that well and I could tell my absence from home was taking an emotional toll on her. But I was enjoying my independence and trying to focus on school work. 

Almost losing mom

Then in February I was studying for a math mid-term when my dad phoned. I immediately knew it was bad news. He said my mom was in the hospital. She’d had a stroke. I wanted to rush home, be by her side and tell her I loved her. But I was in the midst of exams and multiple assignments were due. My dad convinced me to stay put.

I did a lot of soul searching those next two months. Why was I here? Wasn’t being with my family more important? But as my mom slowly started to recover, I came to realize that I was here for my family as much as me. My parents never had the chance to attend university. They struggled with money when I was growing up. They made sacrifices. It seems trite to say, but I wanted to give back for their selflessness by doing well. Get my degree and hopefully go on to be a doctor.

Even so, I was under a huge amount of stress, worrying about mom, my grades and my finances. Around that time, I received a $5,000 scholarship from the Frank Hori Charitable Foundation. I’ve always been someone who worries about money, so that immediately dropped my anxiety down a level.

I’m incredibly grateful for that scholarship for making that difficult time in my life easier.

Moving forward

I finally went home in April. Mom was out of the hospital and was doing a lot better. I’ve been able to spend the summer with her. But now it’s time to return to UVic for second year, I’m even more excited. I’m applying for research opportunities in the faculty and beginning some volunteer work promoting science to young people. I’m also starting Japanese classes. Frank Hori created this scholarship to help people with Japanese ancestry to succeed in school and I want to honor that gift by being the first person in my family to speak Japanese fluently.